Although I helped rear my 2 step-children through the teenage years on a part-time basis, I was not able to truly experience “crazy mama drama” until recently, as my oldest child morphed into a teenager. Starting with middle school, I began to notice seemingly well-meaning mothers infiltrate their way into teenage relationships and conflict. While it seems that this is most commonly seen by mothers of girls, there are plenty of boy mama’s out there living vicariously as well. Now that I have a freshmen in high school, I have put together a few pieces of advice based on the mama drama I have witnessed over the past three years.
1. You do not TRULY know your child.
Although no one knows our children like us mama’s, I can’t tell you the countless times I have seen parents be flabbergasted to learn what their sweet little cherubs are capable of. As a juvenile probation officer and school social worker, I often witnessed irate parents stomp their feet, hire attorneys and curse any authority figure who would accuse their fresh faced adolescent of anything other than perfection. So many times, these same parents were slapped in the face with the reality that their precious offspring DID steal, or lie, or use drugs, or drink alcohol. How could this be? How could this little person, whom we have birthed, swaddled, fed, clothed, taught, read to and loved unconditionally possibly do something that is so uncharacteristic? Well folks, that is because they are their own independent person. As they morph into adolescence, they develop their own personalities and belief systems that are often much different than ours. They tell us what we want to hear, and even though we creep into their bedrooms at night to stalk out all their social media accounts, we still do not truly know what our children are capable of. Why do I share this? Well, when you are confronted with an accusation against your child or your child is in the middle of peer conflict – human nature kicks in and we go into defense mode. “My child WOULD NOT do that!” “He/she is just jealous of you!” “My child and I are very close and I know that he/she would never do anything like that!” “I am so glad that my child isn’t involved with anything like that!” Mama’s – a word of advice…you are likely to look like a fool by responding in this manner. Little Sally down the street, who was recently sending pictures of her Tata’s to the football team, also has a mother who thinks “my daughter would NEVER do that!”
2. Guilty until proven innocent.
Although our constitution guarantees us the contrary, parenting is a whole different ballgame. When we quickly rise to defense when our child is in peer conflict or has been accused of something, we are creating a narcissistic mindset. Yes, we should protect our children from injustice and we should certainly be our child’s cheerleader, but parent’s fail to investigate details before jumping to conclusions. And sometimes, we may never know the whole truth, but we have to guide our children to maintain integrity. Even if they did nothing to deserve the accusation, the mistreatment, the injustice, the punishment – we need to encourage our children to take a look at the situation, relationship, etc. and see how things might have been handled differently. Have them consider what they may have done, intentionally or not, that might have contributed to the problem. When we start pointing fingers at others and making malicious remarks at those who have hurt our babies, we are diverting the focus and letting our own insecurities about what people think about our child take away from the actual situation.
I have watched my children go through heartache with peers and boyfriends/girlfriends. It is tough to see your child hurting. My natural response if to want to fix it. Although I certainly offer comfort and support to my child, I also want them to use the situation as a learning experience. All children need to feel pain, hurt, disappointment, loss, etc. It is part of life. Use these opportunities to have your child reflect on what was good in the relationship and what was bad. Have them consider how they want to move forward and what they learned from being in this experience. All too often, I see mama’s immediately put up their dukes and start hashing out rumors, retaliation and anger towards those that caused the heartbreak in their offspring. You are creating little monsters when you do this and you, yourself, will be a monster-in-law one day if you keep it up. Let’s face it, there are times when life just isn’t fair and people are just plain mean, but don’t always assume your bright eyed blessing is not at fault. You are only getting a part of the story, a very biased part of the story, if it is coming from a teenager.
3. Stop manipulating your child’s social status.
I have been appalled recently to see mother’s infiltrate their children’s social circle. They are the mother’s that are posting more pictures of their children and friends than their own friends on social media. They are the mothers who seem to know everything, or at least they think they know everything, about the teenage going-ons. They know who is dating who, why Sally and Susie aren’t friends anymore, who lost their virginity recently and why Peter lost his starting position in basketball. They are the mothers who want their child to be popular. And if they aren’t popular, they seek vengeance on those that are. They secretly wish that the girl who outdid their daughter at cheerleading tryouts gets kicked off the squad. They wish the boyfriend who broke their daughter’s heart loses his starting position on the football team. They don’t “like” pictures on social media of the teenage nemeses. They seethe over the successes and statuses of their child’s rival.
Recently, I have been around groups of mothers, whose conversations are solely about teenage drama. They seem to have all the scoop, the latest and greatest gossip straight from the filtered mouths of their teens. As I sit back and listen, I have several thoughts. Am I in the dark because I have two boys, who don’t share all the nitty gritty drama with me? Do I really want to know all this? Has my adult life really reverted back to high school, where I am drawn into a living episode of 90210? When adults engage in teenage drama, we are setting the precedent that gossip is OK. We are spreading information that very well may not be true, as it is most likely coming from teenagers. We are teaching our kids that jealousy is OK.
We all want our children to be the best, have the best and strive for the best. But that is not reality. We must stop this “lawn mowing parent” concept, where we are mowing down obstacles and clearing the paths for our little bambinos to assure that they don’t have to face adversity. We will not be able to follow them around their adult life and ensure their lifelong happiness. We will not be able to convince everyone that they are, indeed, the best, the nicest, the smartest, the most athletic. So when they leave the nest (and let’s all hope they do) they will not know how to fly.
Maybe you were “ultra-cool” back in the day and want your child to have the same social status. Or maybe, you were the opposite, and want your child to be the most sought after child on campus so that you can live vicariously through their popularity. Let’s face it, we all want our kids to be liked. But being popular is a short 4-6 year gig that means absolutely nothing in the real world. Let your child be who they are. Don’t get wrapped up in their friendships and social networks. Stand back, guide them, comfort when needed, and allow them to make their own mistakes so they can learn from them.
4. Watch your social media ethics.
Have you ever noticed the mother’s who constantly post pictures of their child, with quotes such as “My Sunshine,” “My World,”etc….? Don’t get me wrong – I love pictures and I post quite often myself. But I think we all have to keep ourselves in check about what our motives are. Are you posting so that Aunt Polly who lives in Alaska can see what we are up to? Is it that grandparents, who can’t see your kids often, can be involved in their “going-ons?” OR is it to see how many “likes” you get? Or are you posting everything that your kids are doing so that others will be jealous? Or so you will look like the “cool mom?” You have to wonder about obsessiveness when you see daily or regular posts of the same child over, and over and over.
In addition to what you are posting, are you purposely “not liking” statuses and pictures of other kids that your child is not getting along with or has a rivalry with? I have to ask, why are you even following that person if that is the case? Recently, I noticed that a mother, who had always previously “liked” many of my posts of my son suddenly stopped. She also stopped “liking” posts of his girlfriend. Then I learned that she and her daughter are tiffed at my son’s new relationship. Really? Are mothers really that shallow? Yes…they are.
Social media sheds a lot of light on character. You might want to keep yours in check.
5. Do not base your friendships on your children’s friendships.
As we navigate parenthood, many of us make new friends with the parents of our children’s friends. Maybe it is because our kids play sports together and we spend a lot of time together on the sideline. Maybe it is because we spend countless hours together waiting for our little ballerina to finish her lesson. Whatever the reason, it happens. Some of my closest friends are those who I have met through these types of interactions. But what happens when the children of these new found adult relationships are no longer friends? What happens when Timmy makes the baseball team and Peter doesn’t? What happens when Sally is being mean to Susie at school? Does that change the friendships between the parents? It shouldn’t.
Come on, folks. Teenagers are still learning and growing. They are immature and have not yet learned how to navigate the world around them. Their frontal lobes are not fully developed and they do not have the cognitive ability to handle situations appropriately. We must model relationships for them.
Do you find yourself seething when another child wrongs yours? Do you get jealous when someone out-performs your child? Do you hold that against the parent? If so, it is time to get yourself in check. Just because teenage relationships fall apart does not mean that adult relationships have to. And never, ever, ever should you get angry with a child just because yours is upset.
Certainly, there are children that we just don’t like. And of course, we have seen our children be mistreated by their “friends.” We don’t have to like it and we absolutely should express our concerns to our child when we see those things happen. But it is not up to us to decide what they will and will not tolerate.
Far too often do I see mothers get so angry with other children for what they did to hurt theirs. Mama Bear come out and so do the claws. Retaliation starts, bad mouthing engages and tempers flare – which exacerbates the teenage drama. Then the other mama gets involved. What a nightmare! Then, 2 months later, the two little cherubs are friends again and the mamas can’t even be in the same room with one another.
While it’s totally normal to hang out with parents who your kids are close with, don’t forget friendships of those who you have known forever or who still love you even though your little Joey and your friend’s little Sam aren’t good buddies anymore. It is best to keep adult relationships completely separate from kid relationships And if you are friends with one of the moms whose child “can do no wrong,” just nod your head politely when the boasting starts. You love then for who they are, not their kid, right? And if you are a real good friend, you will be there when that same mama is devastated because “Little Miss/Mr Can’t Be Wrong” has failed to live up to her/his title. You’ll pat her on the back, wipe her tears, and not remind her of all the pedestal putting she has made you endure. And, you will be sure to encourage her that your little adolescent spawn is flawed as well, maybe just in different ways. After all, aren’t we in this child rearing game together? It’s not a competition. It’s a support system .
In summary, I certainly don’t have all the answers but I know, through my professional and personal life, our precious offspring can and will disappoint us. They will be hurt. They will be involved in drama. They will do things we swore they wouldn’t. So model what real friendship looks like, remove yourself from the drama, support and encourage, discipline and hold accountable, but be a mama first and a friend later. You won’t be sorry!
PS..It’s really ok if they hate you right now. It means you are doing something right. And they will love you for it in adulthood.